Why Rotterdam

A history of trade between East and West

East and West have always been connected. Trade has always been flowing between our continents. By land, by sea and by air. The Netherlands was among the first maritime trading nations to explore new sea routes to East Asia in order to establish commercial contacts. From the beginning of the 17th century onwards the Dutch opened up trade relations with Chinese merchants; shipping tea and Chinese porcelain to eager European markets.

Market leader in dry bulk, liquid bulk and containers

Not only is the port of Rotterdam the largest port in Europe, it is also market leader in dry bulk, liquid bulk and container handling. The port mainly owes this position to the economies of scale Rotterdam offers. Not a single port in the Hamburg - Le Havre area is able to receive the largest dry bulk, liquid bulk and container ships 24/7. And: the larger the ship, the more cost-effective the transport costs. This makes the port of Rotterdam a logical choice.

Best port infrastructure

The World Economic Forum has elected the Dutch port infrastructure the best port infrastructure in the world several times. This position is mainly due to its modern facilities, the extensive hinterland network and the major investment projects in Rotterdam. Billions have been invested in projects such as the expansion of the intermodal network, the construction of Maasvlakte 2, the widening and deepening of port basins and state-of-the-art terminals.

About the Port Authority

The Port of Rotterdam Authority is manager, operator and developer of Rotterdam’s port and industrial area. The Port of Rotterdam Authority is an unlisted public limited company. The Municipality of Rotterdam (approximately 70%) and the Dutch government (approximately 30%) are its shareholders. The Port of Rotterdam Authority has nearly 1,100 employees.

Its key revenue streams consist of rental income and port tariffs. The Port of Rotterdam Authority doesn’t handle or ship goods. It lets port sites to companies, primarily to storage and transhipment companies and to the chemical and petrochemical industries, including energy producers. The Port Authority imposes port tariffs on ships that make use of our port. It invests in public infrastructure, such as roads in the port area, in customer-specific infrastructure, such as quay walls and jetties and in the development of new port sites. In order to handle shipping as effectively as possible, the Port of Rotterdam Authority invests in a traffic management system, patrol vessels and emergency control.

History of the port

Rotterdam started in the second half of the 13th century as a fishing village

The Rotte tributary flowed into the bend in the river Maas. It was here that the herring fishermen used to unload their catch. These fishermen were the first inhabitants of the town after a dyke was built to protect Schieland from the river water. Rotterdam became a true town with municipal rights in 1328.

The first harbours were constructed between 1600 and 1620

Rotterdam gradually developed into a prosperous merchant port. The area began to fill up with warehouses, breweries, sugar refineries, gin distilleries, shipyards and ropeyards. Industry also flourished. The 17th and 18th centuries were ‘golden’ centuries. During the French occupation from 1795 to 1813, trade declined and industry disappeared. Over the years, moreover, the entrance to the port silted up. In 1858 Pieter Caland put forward his plan to cut through the ridge of dunes at the Hook of Holland so as to give the river Rhine an artificial estuary. On 9 March 1872 Richard Young sailed the first ship along the New Waterway.

At the beginning of the last century the port substantially expanded

A whole series of harbours was constructed by the municipal authority. One of the biggest achievements was the digging of Waalhaven (1922). With a water surface area of 219 hectares, it was then – and is still today – the biggest man made dock in the world.

The Rotterdam Municipal Port Management (since 2004 Port of Rotterdam Authority) was set up in 1932

It was essential to tackle the development of the port more systematically. In 1938 the port reached its first milestone: it became Europe’s biggest port which so far was London. In 1962, Rotterdam’s cargo tonnage – 96 million tons – exceeded that of New York for the first time and the Dutch port became the biggest in the world. In 2004 the port of Shanghai surpassed Rotterdam in terms of size. And more Asian ports would follow. The port of Rotterdam, however, remained the largest port in Europe.

Development of the chemical industry

It had been clear to Rotterdam for a long time that activities in the port area other than cargo handling needed to be developed. As a transit port for the German steel industry, the port paid dearly for this in the thirties and after the Second World War. In 1936, Shell opened a modest refinery in the port area. In the next years four refineries were added and a gigantic (petro)chemical industry developed. In 1965 – Europoort was not yet complete – in joint consultation with Rotterdam, the State Public Works Department began the construction of the dams for the Maasvlakte, an expansion plan covering 2,400 hectares. This was the first time that land was reclaimed from water in the port, instead of water from land.


The portscape was gradually undergoing transformation when the container entered the scene in the mid-sixties. The first containership arrived in Rotterdam on 5 May 1966: the m.s. Fairland with 226 containers on its deck. The container revolution led to the start of of ECT, the Europe Container Terminal, with its Home Terminal in Eemhaven area. Container traffic developed rapidly. By 1968 the port of Rotterdam was handling around 65,000 containers (TEU), in 1969 121,000 and in 1971 around 250,000. The 1 million milestone was achieved in 1978 and in 1986 2 million containers passed through the port of Rotterdam. By the year 2007 this figure had reached 10 million TEU. Most of these are handled on the Maasvlakte (ECT Delta, APMT and EuroMax terminals). In 2014 it totalled 12 million TEU.

The construction of Maasvlakte 2

Around the year 2000, however, it became clear that the Port of Rotterdam would soon reach its maximum capacity. Wanting to maintain its leading position in Europe, the Port of Rotterdam Authority decided to think outside the box. If there's no space to expand on land, why not create land in the sea? After all, the Dutch are known for their engineering skills. In 2008 this became reality and in 2012, the construction of Maasvlakte 2 was completed. Three years later, two new container terminals were officially opened. With Maasvlakte 2 the port of Rotterdam has grown by 20 percent, its capacity for container handling has tripled and the port of Rotterdam is well prepared for the future.

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